“A Woman Kills” Now Available on Blu-ray! Click the Cover Art to Purcahse!
The execution of Hélène Picard, a convicted murderer of prostitutes in Paris, France circa 1960s, is carried forth and thought to have snuffed out a string of brutal killings. Louis Guilbeau carried out the execution orders that gave Pairs a moment of relief and a sense of safety for the working girls on the streets, but when the similar murders spark public fear and the newspapers compare the scenes as Hélène Picard handywork, Paris is once again thrown turmoil with a serial killer. Is Hélène Picard really dead? Is it a copycat? Or did they not catch the real killer? Guilbeau, unphased by the recent atrocities, begins an affair with the lead investigator into the murders and continues to always be one step behind the suspected female culprit with no remorse, no shame, and no limits to her brutality against prostitutes.
Thought to be lost in obscurity for forever, the reels for French director Jean-Denis Bonan’s “La femme bourreau,” aka “A Woman Kills” was discovered in 2010. The master of the unfinished film became destined to be born again with a new home video release as Bonan’s debut directorial embodied parallelisms of the French sociopolitical unrest and protests, known as the Paris economic-stopping May 68 event, during the late 1960s, and hitched a ride on the narrative wave of post-“Psycho” gender identity complexes within the confines of a La Nouvelle Vogue, or the French New Wave movement. Though “A Woman Kills” was the inaugural film of the young director’s career, Bonan simultaneously also became one of the few to document in real time the May 68 upheaving protests as he and the crew went back-and-forth filming a fiction story and nonfictional protests. The film incorporates a semi pseudo-doc that treats the script like a mixture between a crime thriller and the experimental qualities of its playful, singsong soundtrack and harsh editing. The 1968 film is a production of Luna Park Films and is self-produced by Jean-Denis Bonan.
For those casted in film, “A Woman Kills” was there first auteur film if not their first feature film role all together. What could be considered as a blend between New French Wave and Neorealism, Bonan rarely has his cast express their own vocal cords. Lots of action and expressiveness devour the attention but that doesn’t go on to say Bonon completely nixed dialogue altogether with his montage of interviewees, a jest-and-jovial troubadour descriptive songs of the scenes, the narrator’s file readings of victims, the newsboys hawking of murder headlines, all become the dialogue in lieu of the real McCoy. The cast does have their voices heard in rare moments, often in scenes of great exposures and difficult in detail. A case in point is Claude Merlin as the prison executive Louis Guilbeau. Merlin, who went on to be involved in another May 68’s connected film from 2001, “Toutes les nuits” or “Every Night,” is eager and excited in character when going into the medical details of the various way his profession executes prisoners or falls into a somber regarding his mother’s abusive behavior to him when he was just a boy. Guilbeau’s dialogued moments are precise and point plots toward his character and toward the end game. The affair Builbeau has with police investigator Solange Lebas, from Jean Rollin’s “Rape of the Vampire” and Bruno Gantillo’s “Girl Slaves of Morgana Le Fay’s” Solange Pradel, provides roughly the equal amount of dialogue time in a role that’s typically casted for men, a lead investigator on a high-profile murder case. Gender reversal and identity themes are accentuated by Merlin and Pradel’s tenues of the characters. Myriam Mézières (“Spermula”), Jackie Raynal, Catherine Deville (“Rape of the Vampire”), and Velly Beguard (“Endless Night”) work out the remaining cast.
I wouldn’t necessarily call “A Woman Kills” avant garde. In fact, I firmly believe the propagating audio and video experiments and the themes are far from it. Bonan borrows a little here and there from different techniques and cinematic trends to fashion a stake in the French New Wave movement. Splashes of eroticism, which are greatly descriptive visually and narratively, don’t warrant “A Woman Kills” to be a full-fledged erotica film. The same can be said about the crime or investigator angle that too just seems to be woven sporadically through this melee of classification. Pseudo-documentary montages and script narrator push the labeling in another direction as well. “A Woman Kills” doesn’t exactly fit into a mold, wears patchwork pastiche, but also has flare ups of Bonan’s call to add chaos into the traditional scheme of filmmaking. More so linear than not, the narrative transitions between scenes without a care for being comprehensible early on. Heavily relying on the narrator to give exposition on the background of the notorious prostitute murderer Hélène Picard and how she became under the executioner’s thumb, this event provides framework in introducing the executioner Louis Guilbeau and his professional ups-and-downs that ultimately land him working in the prison system. The association that connects the murders, Louis Guilbeau, and Hélène Picard is all very vague during initial proceedings and Gérard de Battista’s freeholding over-the-shoulder camera work provides passim POV shots and agley angles to keep the wheels of motion mysteriously slipping in order to not fully grip the reality of the situation. Bonan borders the edge of German Expressionism toward the third act by disenchanting the way of guilty thinking aesthetics and to root the killer in insanity on various levels, ending with a chase sequence that is seemingly endless amongst a pile of building rubble and ruin.
A provocateur of storytelling and of the celluloid vision, director Jean-Denis Bonan finally has his film, “A Woman Kills,” released onto a limited-edition Blu-ray home video from Radiance Films twelve years as being unearthed. First released on DVD in 2016, distribution for the film was all but easy due to Bonan’s deemed unclassifiable feature by large scale and indie firms. Today, the original reversible 16mm elements have gone through a 2K restoration scan for the feature’s Blu-ray debut and the presented in the original 1.33:1 aspect ratio and black and white format. For being undiscovered for four decades, unfinished, and receiving literally no support from any state funds to complete, the image has remained nearly pristine with only a few dust specks and faint scratches being the worse of the wear. The Cinémathèque de Limousin and the restoration by producer Francis Lecomte doesn’t feel to have overcorrected the natural grain or go high on the contrast but rather retain much of the classic, original elements for an honest viewing aside from the liner notes mentioning a few special effects added to remove equipment from out of the picture. Father time has forgotten all about Bonan’s lost relic, staving off age degradation to those with more day-to-day exposure. The French language Dolby Digital mono track also retains a remarkable, near stainless net result. The absence of the camera whirring and lack of electrical interference points to a complete dub track of the actors’ voiceovers to which the dialogue is distinct with only a handful of crackling peppered in throughout. English subtitles are optional on the menu settings and offer an error free, well-paced synchronization. The bonus features include a video introduction to the feature by Virginie Sélavy, an audio commentary by Kat Ellinger and Virginie Sélavy, the trailer, and a 37-minute, newly updated 2015 documentary On the Margin: The Cursed Films of Jean-Denis Bonan featuring one-sided interview responses from Bonan, cinematographer Gérard de Battista, editor Mirelille Abramovici, composer Daniel Laloux, and actress Jackie Rynal. There is also Bonan’s short films – “la vie breve de Monsier Meucieu,” “Un crime d’amour,” “Tristesses des Anthropophages,” Mathieu-fou, “and “Une saison chez les hommes.” The limited to 2,000 copies release does not disappointment with tangible material within this clear snapper, untraditional Blu-ray case that doesn’t sport the Blu-ray logo at the top. Much like Bonan’s work, the Blu-ray, too, rebels against marketing norms with cover art that displays the film’s synopsis and documentary bons feature on the front cover. The reversible cover also has the original 2016 DVD art on the inside along with a limited-edition booklet featuring “A Woman Kills” essay by film author and scholar Catherine Wheatley and writer-broadcaster Richard Thomas regarding the film’s themes and Bonan’s short films. The 51-page booklet also includes newly translated interviews and offers film credits as well as black and white stills of “A Woman Kills” and other Bonan credits. The feature has a runtime of 69 minutes, the release is region free, and Unrated. Jean-Denis Bonan disrupts the narrative routine, but his film remains a timeless, psychosomatic portrayal with a contentious backdrop of French sociopolitical unrest that makes the context of “A Woman Kills” that much more engrossing.